Review: Villette

By Yvette Huddleston

Part of West Yorkshire Playhouse’s Brontë season, this bold reimagining of Charlotte Brontë’s final novel may not appeal to the purists – there isn’t a bonnet in sight – but as a piece of powerful new writing it certainly gets my vote.

Playwright Linda Marshall Griffiths sets the action in a post-apocalyptic future and Brontë’s lonely governess heroine Lucy Snowe becomes a brilliant, dedicated virologist working towards a cure for a catastrophic pandemic that has decimated the world’s population. She joins a team on an archaeological dig searching for the remains of the Lady of Villette who may hold the key to combatting the virus.

The play remains true to many of the themes of Brontë’s original – isolation, longing, unrequited love – and here Lucy’s social awkwardness is neatly explained by the fact that she is a clone, the sole survivor of three ‘sisters’. (In a nod to the grief-stricken state in which Charlotte wrote Villette, following the deaths of Emily and Anne, the clone siblings are called ‘Esme’ and ‘Ashe’).

Laura Elsworthy’s eye-catching central performance – at turns forthright, watchful, hesitant and vulnerable – conveys Lucy’s inner turmoil brilliantly and a strong ensemble cast – Philip Cairns, Nana Amoo-Gottfied, Amelia Donkor and Catherine Cusack – lend excellent support.

Mark Rosenblatt’s accomplished production draws the audience in to an engaging narrative that contains enough references to events and characters in the novel to add a satisfying extra layer for those who have read it and may well inspire newcomers to the story to seek it out.

At West Yorkshire Playhouse to October 15.